Returning captain Dane Coles should lead the Hurricanes to another victory over the Force this Friday as last year’s runners-up look to get their season back on track, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The Canes made an eminently forgettable start to the season, having been hammered by the Brumbies in round one, before suffering an agonising defeat to the Highlanders the week after.
However, they finally opened their 2016 account with a gutsy win over the Blues last weekend, and there were certainly encouraging signs that last year’s runners-up were beginning to rediscover some of their form of old.
That victory did come at a cost, though, with utility back Nehe Milner-Skudder, flank Brad Shields, prop Reggie Goodes and hooker Leni Apisai all ruled out due to injury.
The good news for the Canes, though, is that the influential Coles is fit and ready to make his first appearance of the season, while 53-Test All Black Cory Jane is a more than handy replacement for Milner-Skudder.
So far this season the Hurricanes have had their troubles when it comes to missed tackles and handling errors, but against the Blues, there were clear improvements on both attack and defence.
Playing at home on Friday, if the Canes are able to produce another accurate all-round performance, they shouldn’t have too much trouble overcoming a Force team that continues to underwhelm.
Despite a win over the Reds, the Force have already lost to the Rebels and Brumbies, and will now come up against their first overseas opponents.
Coach Michael Foley has made six changes to the Force starting lineup for this clash, with former Springbok flyhalf Peter Grant notably getting his first start at flyhalf in place of injured Jono Lance.
Foley has said the Force will focus on trying to play with pace, and Grant will have a key role to play in this regard, but it’s hard to see the Hurricanes not running away with this one.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Hurricanes 8, Force 1
Wellington/Palmerston North: Hurricanes 5, Force 0
STATS THAT MATTER
– The Hurricanes have won their last seven matches against the Force, with the Western Australian team’s only win against the Hurricanes coming in a 18-17 nailbiter in 2007.
– The Hurricanes have neither come from behind nor let a lead slip after being ahead at half-time in their last nine Super Rugby fixtures; of those nine they have won five.
– The last time the Force won three away games on the trot against any opposition in Super Rugby was in 2008.
– Force flanker Matt Hodgson (51) is the first and only player so far this season to make more than 50 tackles and he’s missed only three further attempts.
– Beauden Barrett (32) has made more kicks in general play than any other player so far this season.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (24)||TJ Perenara (3)||James Marshall (126)||Ardie Savea (35)|
|Force||Jono Lance (36)||Luke Morahan (2)||Dane Haylett-Petty (260)||Matt Hodgson (51)|
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Blade Thomson, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Chris Eves.
Subs: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Loni Uhila, 18 Ben May, 19 Michael Fatialofa, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Jason Woodward.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Junior Rasolea, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Chris Heiberg, 17 Heath Tessmann, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Stevie Mafi, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Albert Nikoro.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images